February 10, 2006

Church Steps Up Pro-Migrant Campaign

Still a powerful institution, Mexico’s Roman Catholic Church is getting more involved in the debate over Mexico’s differences with US border and immigration policy. Church leaders are calling on the administration of President Vicente Fox to take a stronger stand with Washington, while bishops and priests are assuming more visible roles in the growing pro-migrant movement. The Mexican church’s position is supported by US bishops as well as the Vatican, which has issued a statement demanding that the rights of migrants be respected.

In Ciudad Juarez, the local churches set aside Sunday, January 29, as a day of prayer for migrants and against the Sensenbrenner immigration and border security bill passed by the US House of Representatives late last year. Ciudad Juarez Bishop Renato Asencio Leon, who earlier said the legislation goes against bilateral relations and international human rights agreements that protect migrants, called the border walls sanctioned in the bill unnecessary. He urged the governments Mexico and the United States to reach “rational” solutions to the border controversy. Bishop Asencio Leon discounted the need for further pray-ins for the moment, but he added the faithful should ask God that a border wall not be built.

On January 15, Mexican Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera criticized Fox Administration spokesman Ruben Aguilar’s contention that cultural factors had a lot to do with migration. Cardinal Rivera demanded more firmness but less rancor from the government in demanding that the US government respect the human rights of Mexican migrants.

Adding his voice to the migrant debate, Bishop Jose Guadalupe Martin Rabago of Leon, Guanajuato, contended the majority of migrants undertake their journey out of economic neccesity and not because of “a desire for adventure that poses so many risks.” Bishop Rabago is from one of the top migrant-expelling states in Mexico. 

The Church’s activism comes during Mexico’s presidential election and the last year of the Fox Administration, which early in its term established a new immigration accord as a major goal in its relationship with Washington.

“More than timidity, the (Mexican ) government failed and lacked better mechanisms and strategies, said Mario Angel Flores, the director of the Archdiocese of Mexico’s culture commision. “For example, in the eyes of US legislators, the wall is already a done deal. They don’t pay attention to the protests over here. On the other hand, an informal comment by the President (Vicente Fox) about Blacks provoked the mobilization of leaders,” Flores said. 

According to Flores, church leaders, theologians and Mexican government representatives are considering issuing a new immigration proposal. In addition to the human rights of migrants, church officials are concerned about the internal effects of migration, especially as it impacts family unity.

“We are also before another phenomenon that is not being addressed: many families are disintegrating; generally, one goes, and little by little the others follow, and we find out that we have families scattered,” Flores said. “The answer should not only be in the economic sphere, but also in the family one. It’s a complex problem.”

Reprinted from Frontera NorteSur (FNS): U.S.-Mex-ico border news Center for Latin American and Border Studies, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, New Mexico.

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